SAMMS: Removing Barriers to Graduate School

The Sampling Advanced Mathematics for Minority Students (SAMMS) Program, a partnership between the Department of Mathematics at The Ohio State University and the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, just completed its seventh successful year. Twenty-one students from Puerto Rico, Jackson State University, Valdosta State University, University of La Verne, as well as from Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, actively participated in SAMMS courses and activities, and were exposed, as much as possible in four weeks, to a large research institution. The students took on the challenge with great enthusiasm; their feedback shows that the program is fulfilling its mission: helping to retain undergraduate students from underrepresented minorities, who enjoy doing mathematics in STEM fields and encouraging them to pursue an advanced degree.

For many students groups that are underrepresented in STEM fields, a major barrier to enter advanced academic careers is lacking familiarity with the process and environment of a graduate education. Graduate studies are particularly overwhelming for minority students who enter strong graduate programs. While they may have strong preparation, they may not be prepared for the cultural, psychological, organizational and academic challenges awaiting them, particularly in the initial years. SAMMS removes these barriers by demystifying graduate school and making attendance an achievable and desirable goal.

The SAMMS program provides students with a sample experience similar to that of an established graduate math program at a major research university. An immersive core mini-course program provides experiences representative of rigorous, graduate-course work. Courses vary from standard lectures on a graduate level mathematical topic, to hands-on labs with a MATLAB programming component, to seminar-style, research-oriented sessions.

An optional, yet very popular with participants, Inquiry Activity, provides a sampling of graduate research. This program component connects students directly to OSU research faculty of their choice, culminating in a series of presentations, in which participants showcase their work in front of their peers. A number of students have been co-authors on published papers with their SAMMS advisors, on the topic they investigated at OSU.

These and further activities create a comprehensive view of graduate school with all of its inter-related components in a realistic, yet nurturing environment. Through a positive experience and first hand insights, students better understand the value of attending a strong graduate program and gain the confidence needed to pursue a graduate career.